Black Bream (2020)

Acanthopagrus butcheri

  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Matt Broadhurst (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries)
  • Jason Earl (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Rodney Duffy (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Nils Krueck (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania)

Date Published: June 2021

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Black Bream is a primarily estuarine species found around Australia's southern coastline. Assessments are presented here for nine management units, distributed along the coasts of NSW, VIC, TAS, SA and WA. Of these units, four are classified as sustainable, one as depleting, one as depleted, and three as undefined.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Tasmania Tasmania Scalefish Fishery Sustainable Catch
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Stock Structure

Black Bream have a wide distribution in the estuaries of southern Australia from central New South Wales to the central Western Australian coast, including Tasmania [Kailola et al. 1993]. Black Bream are estuarine-dependent, completing much of their life cycle within a single estuary [Chaplin et al. 1997, Conron et al. 2016, Earl et al. 2016]. Genetic studies of Black Bream in Victoria and Western Australia have indicated that, while there has been gene flow between adjacent estuaries, there is evidence of isolation by distance between populations [Chaplin et al. 1997, Farrington et al. 2000, Burridge et al. 2004, Burridge and Versace 2007]. Results of tagging studies conducted in the Swan River [Norriss et al. 2002], Gippsland Lakes [Butcher and Ling 1962, Hindell et al. 2008] and the Coorong estuary [Hall 1984] found limited or no evidence of coastal migration or emigration between estuaries. This indicates that estuarine Black Bream populations should be managed as distinct biological stocks. However, for most fisheries management agencies this is not practical.

Black Bream and the closely related Yellowfin Bream, Acanthopagrus australis, also exhibit considerable levels of hybridisation where their distributions overlaps in south-eastern Australia [Farrington et al. 2000, Roberts et al. 2009, 2010, 2011, Ochwada-Doyle et al. 2012], further complicating status determination. 

Furthermore, Black Bream growth, size- and age-at-maturity and recruitment are strongly influenced by environmental conditions, particularly fresh water influx into estuaries [Norriss et al. 2002, Cottingham 2008]. It is therefore likely that over local scales at least, annual recruitment strength depends on environmental conditions, with substantial inter-annual variation in recruitment affecting individual stock demographics and biomasses. These environmental drivers complicate management across multiple catchments.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the management unit level—Western Australia West Coast Estuaries, Western Australia South Coast Estuaries (Western Australia); Southern New South Wales (New South Wales); Victoria Western Estuaries, The Gippsland Lakes, Victoria Eastern Estuaries (Victoria); Tasmania Scalefish Fishery (Tasmania); Lakes and Coorong Fishery and South Australia Marine Scalefish Fishery (South Australia).

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Stock Status

Tasmania Scalefish Fishery

The sale of Black Bream from Tasmanian State waters has been prohibited since 1998, resulting in a cessation of significant harvest of the species for commercial purposes. Prior to 1998, Black Bream were harvested commercially using seine nets (including beach seine) and gillnets and, to a lesser extent, hand lines. Maximum commercial catches of 9.9 t were recorded in 1996–97. In the years following 1998, catches remained below 1 t, averaging only 38 kg over the last 10 years.

Black Bream are a popular target for recreational fishers in Tasmania. Recreational fishers target the species primarily in estuaries using lines with bait or lures. Catches have remained fairly stable over time, but dropped by about 50 per cent between the last two surveys in 2012–13 and 2017–18 [Lyle et al. 2009, Lyle et al. 2014, Lyle et al. 2019]. Release rates have increased markedly since 2001, reflecting a documented change in fisher ethic towards catch-and-release sports fishing [Lyle et al. 2009, Lyle et al. 2014, Lyle et al. 2019]. The estimated total recreational catch in 2012–13 was 59 000 fish, with an estimated 40 000 of these released [Lyle et al. 2014]. In 2017–18, total recreational catch was estimated at 27 000, with about 18 000 released and 9 000 kept [Lyle et al. 2019]. Post-release survival of Black Bream is considered to be high, but known to vary with hooking depth [Conron et al. 2010]. 

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted, recruitment is unlikely to be impaired, and the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired. On the basis of this assumption, the Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Black Bream biology [Kuiter 1993, Sarre and Potter 2000, Walker and Neira 2001, Cheshire et al. 2013]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Black Bream 37 years, 600 mm TL 180–340 TL mm
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Black Bream

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Fishing methods
Management methods
Method Tasmania
Bag and possession limits
Gear restrictions
Bag and possession limits
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 16.7 t (in 2012–13), 27000 fish (18000 released) in 2017/18

New South Wales – Recreational (catch) Murphy et al. [2020].

New South Wales – https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing.

Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

Tasmania – Recreational (management methods) In Tasmania, a recreational licence is required for fishers using dropline or longline gear, along with nets, such as gillnet or beach seine. The species is subject to a minimum size limit of 250 mm. A bag limit of five individuals and a possession limit of ten individuals is in place for recreational fishers fishing in marine waters.

Tasmania – Indigenous (management methods) In Tasmania, Indigenous persons engaged in traditional fishing activities in marine waters are exempt from holding recreational fishing licences, but must comply with all other fisheries rules as if they were licensed. If using pots, rings, set lines or gillnets, Indigenous fishers must obtain a unique identifying code (UIC). The policy document "Recognition of Aboriginal Fishing Activities” details application procedures for issuing a UIC.

Western Australia – Recreational (Management methods) In Western Australia a recreational fishing licence is only required for fishing from a boat. Black Bream are subjected to a minimum size limit of 250 mm TL and a bag limit of six(of which only two fish may be over 400 mm TL if fishing in the Swan and Canning rivers).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Black Bream - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. Burridge, CP and Versace, VL 2007, Population genetic structuring in Acanthopagrus butcheri (Pisces: Sparidae): does low gene flow among estuaries apply to both sexes? Marine Biotechnology 9, 33–44.
  2. Burridge, CP, Hurt, AC, Farrington, LW, Coutin, PC and Austin, CM 2004, Stepping stone gene flow in an estuarine dwelling sparid from south‐east Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 64, 805–819.
  3. Butcher, AD and Ling, JK 1962, Bream tagging experiments in East Gipsland during April and May 1944. Victorian Naturalist 78, 256–264.
  4. Chaplin, JA, Baudains, GA, Gill, HS, Mccullock, R and Potter, IC1997, Are assemblages of black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) in different estuaries genetically distinct? International Journal of Salt Lake Research, 6(4):303–321.
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  6. Conron S.D. (2004) Evaluation of recreational management controls of commercially important scalefish species. Final Report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project No. 1998/146. Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute, Queenscliff.
  7. Conron, S, Giri K, Hall, K and Hamer, P 2016, Gippsland Lakes Fisheries Assessment 2016. Fisheries Victoria Science Report Series No. 14, Fisheries Victoria, Queenscliff.
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  31. Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA), June 2020. Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishery Plan 2020. 20 pp.
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  34. Ye, Q, Bucater, L and Short, D, 2018, Coorong fish condition monitoring 2016/17: Black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), greenback flounder (Rhombosolea tapirina) and smallmouthed hardyhead (Atherinosoma microstoma) populations. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2011/000471-6. SARDI Research Report Series No. 979. 89pp.
  35. Ye, Q, Bucater, L, Short, D and Giatas, G 2020, Coorong fish condition monitoring 2008-2019: Black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), greenback flounder (Rhombosolea tapirina) and smallmouthed hardyhead (Atherinosoma microstoma) populations. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2011/000471-7. SARDI Research Report Series No. 1066. 97 pp.

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